In today’s world, where recent global events underscore the fact that unpredictability is evident, satellites serve as a reliable safeguard for our crucial communication infrastructure. They provide protection in the event of major disruptions that could affect essential aspects of our lives such as financial transactions, trade, communication, the media, security, and power distribution.
To governments around the world, the need for satellites should be quite clear: every nation needs to strengthen its ability to adapt, deploy and control its critical communication infrastructure under all thinkable circumstances – be it international conflicts, climate changes, earthquakes or what else the future holds in store for us.
In this regard, few technologies hold as much promise as the ones bridging the gap between satellite-based, non-terrestrial 5G infrastructure and the terrestrial 5G infrastructure we know already. This bridge has an enormous potential to improve the way in which governments can fulfill their need for resilient critical communication in times of trouble. On top of that, being able to bridge non-terrestrial and terrestrial 5G will furthermore spawn a great number of new business opportunities across the satcom and telecom industries.
One of the most obvious examples is the deployment of high-speed, low-latency mobile broadband internet via satellite in remote and rural locations. This is typically established through satellites beaming internet to a dish on the users’ roof, which then passes the signal on to a Wi-Fi router. Another example of new business emerging is the first 5G NR-compatible smartphones, and even though it is still early days, this area has already shown us simple services like emergency messaging and car assistance. But with the advance of 5G NR, new high-speed data and voice services will most certainly be launched.
Utilizing 5G satellite connectivity thus opens the door to transformative applications across various sectors such as precision agriculture where farming practices are enhanced through the optimization of water usage, pest control, and boosting crop yield. Maritime and aviation connectivity likewise provide reliable, continuous connectivity for improved navigation and safety. 5G connectivity can also help transform the mining industry, enabling remote machinery operation whereby human risk in hazardous conditions can be minimized and at the same time, overall operational efficiency is enhanced.
Although things might start to look promising, we’re not quite there yet. The fact remains that what may be simple to achieve in a terrestrial network can be extremely complicated in a non-terrestrial network. For instance, how do you provide direct connectivity between a satellite constellation and a standard mobile phone? This is a real challenge due to factors like spectrum, link budgets, high doppler shifts, and increase in latency due to interference from terrain and weather. Just to mention a few.
One of the major initiatives to bridge the gap is the IRIS2 satellite constellation – the European Union’s answer to the pressing challenges of tomorrow. The constellation will be offering enhanced resilient and innovative 5G communication capacities to governmental users and businesses, while at the same time allowing mass-market commercial applications including mobile and broadband satellite access.
To develop this resilient and innovative network, governmental organizations, and private companies, across the terrestrial and non-terrestrial connectivity industry must work together to close the gap. A joint consortium has been established and will be led by companies such as Airbus Defence and Space, Eutelsat, Hispasat, SES and Thales Alenia Space, together with the intergovernmental organization ESA (European Space Agency).
The integrated team aims to foster collaboration among all European players across the entire connectivity value chain with a view to support a large variety of governmental applications in the domains of surveillance, crisis management, connection, and the protection of key infrastructures.
The EU’s IRIS2-space program may be the first large-scale case of the unification of standardized 5G terrestrial and non-terrestrial network technology. But the story has more to it than securing critical governmental needs; it’s also about ensuring connectivity to our mobile phones in “dead zones” and how we access the internet from our homes. Big things are happening here too.
Recently, the GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) and the ESA signed a memorandum of intent to formalize a new, strategic partnership. The purpose is to enhance the competitive edge of both the mobile and satellite network industries and fast-track the development of innovative technology solutions for both governments, businesses, and consumers.
Another good example is from the U.K., where the government is working to establish a potential 160 million pound scheme called “Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit” — or CLEO in short. The purpose of this is to fund a next-gen 5G satellite communication constellation. CLEO aims to deliver the R&D needed to support the launch of hundreds of satellites into space, revolutionizing the UK’s communication infrastructure and closing connectivity gaps.
The future of bridging the critical communication infrastructure gap will depend largely on decisions made by governments and policymakers which will help essential 5G terrestrial and non-terrestrial network technologies expand. The path forward is still complex and less predictable than many of us would prefer. Some factors can hinder efficient cooperation and may be perceived as obstacles. Barriers may arise from bureaucratic rivalries, narrow-minded perspectives, inflexible organizational rules, and procedures, inadequate information, detrimental leadership, and more. But there is little doubt that the integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks will bring about a profound transformation of the communications landscape.
This, in turn, will lead to a wealth of new business opportunities and competitive solutions for both governments, corporations, and private consumers. The important thing is that we keep providing citizens and governments worldwide with a resilient and versatile communication infrastructure capable of withstanding the effects of natural disasters, climate change and the like.
Thorleif Astrup Hallund, Senior Business Development Manager at Gatehouse Satcom is spearheading business development with a focus on 5G products for non-terrestrial networks. Gatehouse Satcom is a full member of 3GPP and actively contributing to the standardization through extensive knowledge of satellite communication. For further inquiries, contact Thorleif Astrup Hallund at [email protected] or connect on LinkedIn.
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